Monday, June 30, 2003

Lets bring democracy home

The northwest is going to have a referendum on a regional assembly. This is a development that should be greeted with alacrity. While its chief protagonist in central government John Prescott hardly has a reputation as a constitutional iconoclast, devolution is vital to the reconstruction of British politics.

Power is to concentrated, the agenda to London centric. The regions especially those furthest from the capital need their own champions. We must increase the sheer amount of political muscle deployable in London and Brussels to advance the regional interest.

The fallacy of centralist government has even been recognised by Whitehall. Administrative necessity has long seen the existence of regional government offices. Why should these not be accountable to the people of the regions they serve?The present system is absurd. For example, take the North West Development Agency. This is run by an unelected board with a part time chairman, at considerable cost, appointed by the Secretary of State at Westminster who's own constituency may be anywhere from Aberdeenshire to Norfolk or Dorset.

So, with a stronger voice for the Northwest we can set about closing the regional economic disparities, which so stunt the life chances of, so many. The North West regional assembly will be an institution predicated in the basis of equality.

Devolution across the country will not only make government more accountable and responsive to local circumstance it will by its very nature promote diversity. This can be harnessed to bring excellence.It has been argued that China's ossified bureaucracy let it fall behind a dynamic and devolved Europe. Whatever the merits of that case may be we should take advantage of the creativity in delivering public services devolution will bring.

There is a clear argument in favour of regional assemblies for democracy, for prosperity and for equality. As well as for responsive public services. But that is not the totality. I do have three principle reservations.

Firstly, I think, as the situation currently stands, the regional assemblies will not draw down enough powers from Westminster. Political reality means that if we are to have a Northwest Assembly in the next 20 years then we must seize the day; win the referendum and work on gaining extra powers in the future.

Secondly, personnel. Unless political parties pull their fingers out we risk be represented only by those on the way up, or on the way down to other things. Even worse we could be left with those unable to do anything else. It may also further favour those best able to work local political networks in search of parliamentary seats, so damaging the goal of a Westminster parliament that looks like the people.But this is a problem for political parties rather than regional government.

Finally we shouldn't take a referendum for granted. Proponents of devolution have a great case to sell and we can win even with the present levels of distrust of politicians amongst the electorate. But we face the three C’s. Cost, Counties and Conservatives.

A regional assembly won't be free but the cost would be relatively small and dwarfed by the money that the assembly could bring into the region. Further single tier local government could save money and would mean fewer but more effective politicians. Counties and districts are confusing and inefficient. We shouldn't decide the shape of our democracy by the personal interests of county councillors. The Conservatives meanwhile will be happily campaigning against. Just as they did in Scotland and Wales, where they now have elected representatives in both devolved bodies. They simply have no credibility. If they ever came to power in Westminster again would they abolish regional assemblies?

Turnout in the referendum will also be an issue. Recent experiments to improve turnout in local government elections have had mixed results but postal voting has been the most effective. This should be adopted for the referendum vote.

The vote is there to be won. The case in favour is strong and it's a great opportunity that we must seize as failure to do so may set back our most deprived regions even further. London already has a regional assembly. How long must the Northwest do without?

Moore on Dubya

"We do know, George, that you have been arrested three times. Other than some peace-activist friends of mine. I don't personally know anyone who has been arrested three time in their life."

Michael Moore on the President of the United States in his book Stupid White Men

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Ali on 4

It's generally considered a good thing in politics not to act in haste. So I suspect Jon Snow was a little surprised to hear at 7:04 in his earpiece, after a request for an interview had been rejected earlier, that "Alastair Campbell has entered the building." Makes for great TV though.

Jon Snow: And now we are joined by Alastair Campbell - a rare moment - thank you for coming in.

This is row between you and the BBC. Many will see it as a diversionary tactic to prevent people from actually seeing the real issue there, which is that MPs are not getting to the root of whether in fact the intelligence we were provided with was the real intelligence provided by the intelligence services.

Alastair Campbell: Well, if people wish to see it as a diversionary tactic, they may. The media are constantly telling people never to take things at face value.

This is not a row between me and the BBC. This is an attempt by the government to get the BBC to admit that a fundamental attack upon the integrity of the government, the Prime Minister, the intelligence agencies, let alone people the evil spin doctors in the dark who do their dirty works in the minds of the journalists.

Let them just accept for once that they have got it wrong. The allegation, let's just understand what this allegation amounted to.

And these weasel words in Richard Sambrook's letter today that says to me, we didn't make the allegation. We reported a source making the allegation.

What does that say about journalism? You have been in journalism for decades, I was a journalist for quite a long time, I respect a huge number of journalists including many at the BBC, but they now say you can say anything you want on the television because somebody said it to you.

It doesn't matter if it's true. It doesn't matter if you check it. It doesn't matter if it's corroborated. You can say it.

You can corroborate the rest of this interview on the channel 4 website here

Friday, June 27, 2003

McGivern him a party card ?

According to the Guardian one Andy McGivern of the GMB actually wants to join the Labour Party which is great. Of course there has to be a snag. He lives in Northern Ireland. There is the small matter that Labour organising in Northern Ireland would be encroaching on the territory of our sister party the SDLP.

However I suspect the party views the prospect of campaigning in Northern Ireland with its attendant risks of sod all chance of winning and be blown to smithereens as about as appealing as drinking your average pint of sick.

So the case is going to court. Seriously someone is prepared to go to court to join the Labour party. Top marks for determination if not for sanity. Has he not heard of emigration?

To govern is to choose

Sometimes I wonder whether the Government is actually serious about joining the Euro. Tony's latest idea to get Britain into the Euro is, wait for it, to set up a cabinet committee. The European Strategy Committee will be chaired by the PM and is meant to iron out not so little problems on the way to entry like reform of the housing market and the development of regional pay bargaining. Six years in to a labour government and we have this. I thought setting up a cabinet committee is what prime ministers did when they don't know what to do.

Public opinion is as stubborn as ever and we have to have a referendum on the issue. Ah but look at what happend at the last referendum is the argument. There is alas an essential difference. Then we were voting on whether to stay in, not whether we should sign up for something extra. Voters in referendums tend to be conservative in nature so if they’re not sure about it they wont buy it

Playing double or quits and linking it to another referendum on whether to stay in the EU would be a very dangerous game but one that would be easier to win. Indeed the only way that Britain is going to join the Euro is with the strongest political and economic lead from government and business. Simply wishing us to join will not work. Yes that does mean kicking the Tory press in the bollocks.

This is part of a wider problem in the government, namely that the government wants to be liked by every one and so ends up pleasing no one. It is simply not possible for any Government to satisfy everyone, as the saying goes "To govern is to choose".

Take tax, the top earners who would pay more under an increasingly progressive tax system are not the people who are most likely to vote Labour anyway. So why not use the extra money to take more of the public sector professional vote, which Labour needs, out of the 40% top tax band or spend more on public services which can benefit the worst off in society as well.

This is not such a radical idea when one considers that even in the United States of Inequality, according to Mark Seddon, that the top tax rate there is 47%.

It doesn't matter if 30% of the people really hate you as long as you can get your just over forty % to the polls your in for a landslide as Thatcher found out in the 1980's. This Labour government is entering uncharted territory and will only be sustained by a strong electoral coalition. We must be clear who is outside it so when government makes its choices it knows who to target.
In the beginning there was...

Far to many blogs are written by those on the right. As Renton says in Trainspotting "It's a shite state of affairs and all the fresh air in the world will not make any fucking difference." But more people from the left writing blogs will so I thought that I would have a go.

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